CHARLOTTE — After a relatively quiet offseason, the Carolina Panthers got busy trying to get under the salary cap Friday, cutting aging and oft-injured defensive tackle Ron Edwards and restructuring tight end Greg Olsen’s contract.
The moves left the Panthers approximately $3.5 million over the reported $123 million cap, meaning there is more work to be done before the March 12 deadline.
Edwards could be the first of two defensive starters to become a cap casualty. The Panthers also are expected to cut veteran cornerback Chris Gamble, a move that would free up $7.9 million.
Gamble is the Panthers’ third-longest tenured player, behind wideout Steve Smith and offensive tackle Jordan Gross. But Gamble has been injured two of the past three seasons, including a shoulder injury that limited him to four games in 2012.
The release of Edwards had been anticipated. Edwards, 33, came to Carolina in 2011 as a proven interior linemen after a total of 10 seasons with Buffalo and Kansas City. But Edwards couldn’t stay healthy after signing a three-year, $8.25 million contract with the Panthers following the lockout two years ago.
Edwards missed the entire 2011 season after tearing his triceps during his first training camp practice in Spartanburg. He started 11 games last season before a dislocated elbow sent him to injured reserve again.
Edwards finished with 16 tackles and a sack in two seasons in Charlotte.
“We appreciate the contributions that Ron has made to the Panthers the past two seasons,” coach Ron Rivera said in a release. “He set a great example on and off the field for our young players and we wish him well moving forward.”
Cutting Edwards saves the Panthers about $2.5 million toward the cap.
Dwan Edwards, the Panthers’ other starter at defensive tackle, is an unrestricted free agent. The Panthers have expressed an interest in re-signing Dwan Edwards, and he said this week he would like to return.
Dwan Edwards finished with six sacks last season, the most by a Panthers defensive tackle since Kris Jenkins had seven in 2002. Ron Edwards was the starter at nose tackle, where he drew a lot of double-teams and kept blockers off the linebackers.
Frank Kearse started the final four games at nose tackle when Edwards was out, but Rivera indicated the Panthers will be looking for help at the position.
“You’ve got to make sure you’ve got guys up front. Because I think up front really does impact the back seven more so than anything else,” Rivera said Friday at a speaking engagement at the Hood Hargett Breakfast Club at Carmel Country Club.
“We always talk about getting a space-eater,” Rivera added. “That’s a guy that’s going to line up in front of (linebackers) Luke (Kuechly), Thomas (Davis) and Jon (Beason) and take care of the two A-gaps on either side of the center. So you’ve got to make sure you’ve got enough of those guys.”
Prior to cutting Edwards, all of the Panthers’ cap-related moves had been contract restructurings.
Olsen became the fourth player to rework his deal this offseason, joining center Ryan Kalil, running back Jonathan Stewart and free safety Haruki Nakamura, who had his pay cut by about $500,000 following a season in which he struggled in coverage and lost his starting job.
In Olsen’s case, the Panthers converted $3 million in base salary to bonus money in a move that created about $2 million against the cap, a source with knowledge of the situation said Friday.
Olsen, 27, who is signed through 2015, was scheduled to make $3.75 million in base salary this year. His total compensation will remain the same, but the shift of base money to bonus money is more cap-friendly for the Panthers.
Olsen is coming off the best season by a tight end in Panthers history. He caught 69 passes for 843 yards to break Wesley Walls’ single-season records in each category.